30 years ago, on 6 March 1987, the ro-ro passenger ferry Herald of Free Enterprise sailed for Dover, in southeast England, from Zeebrugge, Belgium, with her bow doors still open.
Water entered her vehicle decks in large quantities, de-stabilising the ship, and she rolled over in the port approaches. Of the 539 people aboard, 193 died. It would have been far more if the ship had not happened to roll onto a sand bar, ending up on her side, semi-submerged, instead of capsizing completely. (In this respect the Herald’s story is similar to that of the Costa Concordia, some 25 years later.)
A huge and complex rescue effort commenced as night fell, involving SAR units, nearby merchant ships, harbour craft, and units of the Belgian Navy, who had been taking part in an exercise nearby. Members of the Herald’s own crew and passenger complement also worked heroically on and in the hull, to save many lives.
Many lessons learned in the accident were subsequently acted upon by the IMO and other authorities. However, as we know, the risk of similar events – rare, but extremely challenging to respond to – continues to exist.
On 6 March 2017 memorial events were held in both Dover and Zeebrugge, to mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster. The IMRF’s David Jardine-Smith was one of the speakers in Belgium, at the invitation of the Government of West-Vlaanderen Province.
David explained the ongoing work of our mass rescue operations project to a gathering which included people who had been involved in the response all those years ago.
They will never forget the Herald – and neither should we.